SAS delivers free analytics training for COVID researchers

11 June 2021 | Friday | News

Users of the massive, global COVID-19 Research Database can enhance data analysis skills with SAS virtual learning environment
COVID-19 researchers can more easily use advanced technologies like AI and machine learning with help from the SAS virtual learning environment.

COVID-19 researchers can more easily use advanced technologies like AI and machine learning with help from the SAS virtual learning environment.

Analytics leader SAS is increasing its support of COVID researchers through new, free analytics training options. A year ago, SAS provided free use of health care analytics software for users of the COVID-19 Research Database (CRD), a secure repository of HIPAA-compliant, de-identified and limited patient-level data sets. Organized by Datavant and their partners, the database is available to public health and policy researchers to further investigate COVID-19 and its impact on health care and socio-economic outcomes.


The SAS virtual learning environment is an extraordinary addition to the CRD ~Mark Cullen, Prof of Medicine, Stanford


Supported by a cross-industry partnership of health care and technology organizations, the CRD represents the largest pro bono COVID data resource and research environment available to researchers and policymakers. The database pulls in data from electronic health records, medical and pharmacy claims, and mortality, consumer and other data sets, covering more than 300 million individuals and 85 billion records.


Powerful data analysis tools derive insights from massive data repository

More than 2,800 researchers have registered for access to the COVID-19 Research Database, and over 200 research projects are currently underway. Researchers from more than 350 different research institutions have registered, including the country's top 30 medical schools, and numerous state and federal level health policy organizations.

To help more researchers use SAS® Analytics in their work, SAS has created a virtual learning environment (VLE) for database users. The VLE is a free training environment that includes courses and live seminars to help upgrade investigators' data analytic skills, whatever the level of prior data and coding experience. Not exclusive for SAS users, the VLE will help all researchers, according to Mark R. Cullen, MD, Professor of Medicine at Stanford University and Chair of the COVID-19 Research Database Scientific Steering Committee.

"The new virtual learning environment supplied by SAS represents yet another extraordinary addition to the CRD platform, and assures an even higher quality of research," said Cullen. "This is one further example of the commitment of SAS and the growing list of contributing companies to this shared private-sector effort to enhance the nation's data infrastructure and time-sensitive research output at this critical time in the pandemic."

Jeremy Racine, Global Health Care AI Principal at SAS, serves on the CRD Scientific Steering Committee and has reviewed dozens of proposals.

"The CRD has continued to grow rapidly in both volume and variety," he said, "creating more opportunity to explore the most complex and under-researched areas of COVID. However, this has also posed significant challenges for teams that may not have strong analytic skill sets and wish to employ analytical methods such as machine learning and artificial intelligence to support their work."

New grant program supports research into COVID gender effects

A recently announced grant program for researchers using the CRD, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will help researchers explore the role of gender in the pandemic's effects. The VLE arrives at the right time, according to Sean O'Brien, SAS Senior Vice President of Education.

"Researchers will be studying the effects of COVID for years to come, and we want to them to be equipped with the technology and training they need," said O'Brien. "Analytics will be critical to understanding vaccine impacts, long- term COVID effects and the role of social determinants and other demographics."

Researchers using SAS to analyze critical COVID questions

Learning more about COVID's effects on different populations is a primary goal for the CRD. Niall Brennan, former Chief Data Officer at the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), is the president and CEO of the Healthcare Cost Institute (HCCI). HCCI analyses of electronic medical record data, using SAS, not only showed significantly higher rates of COVID-19 infection among Hispanic and Black patients, but that the disparities persist across regions and over time. HCCI also used SAS to explore the impact of COVID-19 on the use of preventive health care and took a new look at daily COVID deaths by state using obituary data.

"SAS has been a strong partner since my days at CMS and is a standard in public health research," said Brennan. "HCCI relies on SAS to help us understand the far-reaching effects of COVID-19 on costs and policy."

Leading research universities such as BrownDukeHarvard and Vanderbilt are also deploying SAS in their work. Boston University researchers are exploring the impact of COVID-19 and racism on BIPOC experiences with mental health services. A team from the University of Pennsylvania is looking at disparities in telemedicine encounters during the pandemic.

Empowering public health with resources and expertise

As the pandemic abates, SAS technology and health experts are helping organizations recover and reimagine public health.

  • Visit the SAS COVID-19 Resource Hub for additional resources and more details of how COVID researchers and organizations are using SAS and analytics to recover from the pandemic.
  • Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE) conference: SAS public health experts Dr. Meg Schaeffer, EdD, MPH, MPA; and Theresa Do, MPH will host a roundtable session on Monday, June 14, at 2:15 ET. They will discuss how agencies can navigate major data modernization decisions during the COVID recovery period to restructure the landscape of public health. The session captures a vision of the future of epidemiology.  
  • Health Pulse podcast on June 11 will feature Dana Bernson, epidemiologist and Director of Special Analytic Projects at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. She will discuss the department's efforts to link data sources across state government to fight the opioid epidemic, understand social determinants of health and explore the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on underserved populations.

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